In less than a year, the idea of a new downtown subway line has gone from being a dusty, forgotten plan to winning the support of Toronto city council. 416 politicians and activists now want the proposal fast-tracked — which could potentially delay a northern extension of the Yonge subway to Richmond Hill.

The Downtown Relief Line would dip into the city core from new connections along the Bloor-Danforth route, hypothetically diverting passenger traffic away from the crowded Yonge/Bloor and St. George transfer stations.

Transit fans are busy debating exactly where the “DRL” should run, and the concept is gaining general credibility as a way to offset the effect of thousands of future transit riders boarding Yonge trains from north of Steeles.

Transit planners ignored the Yonge expansion until recently, apparently in the belief Toronto taxpayers would never build a line that filled up with passengers before it crossed the Steeles boundary. When the provincial Liberals offered in 2007 to finance the extension as part of the “MoveOntario 2020” mega-plan, York Region groups seized on the idea.

Toronto was so focused on the Transit City network of light rail lines further south that the general design of the Yonge subway was pretty well complete when the TTC joined York Region’s public consultation process late last year.

Provincial planning agency Metrolinx approved a regional transit plan in November, and many observers noticed the lack of new downtown lines among projects slated for the first 15 years.

It seems the latest push is to convince Metrolinx that the DRL is not really a competitor to the Yonge extension, but the key to ensuring York Region commuters can be accommodated on Yonge trains downtown.

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